As economic unrest continues to unfold in Indonesia due to the pandemic, people have pushed for both a delayed presidential election and the addition of a presidential term, increasing it from two to three in order to keep current President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, in office. This push is motivated by a few Indonesian issues including Jokowi’s high approval rating, ranging between fifty and sixty percent, and economic interests. Citizens believe it will be easier to recover the Indonesian economy if Jokowi remains president rather than focusing time and attention on a new political campaign. Although the push for an extended term, one that would keep Jokowi in office until 2027 rather than 2024, was abandoned in January, the campaign for a constitutional amendment remains.
While the reasons to keep Jokowi in office may seem reasonable, the addition of an allowed presidential term directly inflicts erosion on a democracy. A key concept of a democracy is the ability to change the president through free and fair elections. Even though it was shut down, the fact that a large movement was created to eliminate one of these elections is frightening to the functionality of Indonesia’s democracy. While Jokowi himself has not publicly supported these ideas, he has not issued a statement regarding their potential harm either. It is essential for people in power to check the rules of democracy and ensure that those they govern understand the importance of the rules. People around the world are incredibly misinformed and under-educated in regards to politics, so a candidate running on ideals that would dismantle the core elements of a democracy has a higher chance of winning than one may think. Because of the economic unrest, people are becoming stressed, and they unleash their stress on social media; Indonesia is the fourth highest ranking country in terms of number of social media users. This combination creates a breeding ground for misinformation.
Forty percent of Indonesia would like to see Jokowi serve another term. These people are speaking openly and loudly about a radical change to democracy which is allowing them to break old status quos. Since such a large number of Indonesians support this idea, it makes the likelihood of disrupting democracy in other ways higher as well. It is essential to preserve all key elements of a democracy: meaningful elections, rights of speech, assembly, and association, and the stability, predictability, and integrity of legal institutions. When candidates run their campaign on even a single idea that disrupts the process of democratization in the name of bettering a country, they will then be able to disrupt a plethora of democratic ideals if elected. Once democratic erosion begins, it is incredibly difficult to reverse.
A pro-third-term group titled the Volunteer Community of Jokowi-Prabowo for 2024, or Jok-Pro2024, has been advocating for Jokowi’s re-election since he took office in 2019, and their support has only grown stronger as the negative impacts of the pandemic unfold. This slowly growing support is a precise example of constitutional retrogression. The incremental decay of competitive elections is prevalent in Indonesia, incremental being the key word. It is unlikely that Jokowi will take a third term as political elites have nearly unanimously condemned
this idea. As Bartels noted, we are in the New Gilded Age, meaning super-elites run politics. They possess most of the power in regards to campaign funding and social influence, so what they advocate for tends to be executed. To Jok-Pro2024’s misfortune, their group is not composed of these super-elites.
Although Jokowi will likely end his presidential reign in 2024, his successors have a higher likelihood of exceeding the two term limit. Since this is a relatively new idea, it makes sense that it has yet to gain a majority approval rating; however, forty percent is an incredibly high percentage. In difficult times, people tend to seek something new, sometimes even radical, to give their economy the best chance of succeeding. In Indonesia’s case, citizens believe this chance lies in the continuation of the current president, a step that leads them closer to an authoritarian regime. As previously stated, Jokowi does not believe he should be the one to execute this, but the current and growing support will allow someone else to do so.
The erosion of a country’s democracy does not always come from the top down, as proved by this case. The point of a democracy is that it is ruled by the people, for the people, and unfortunately if citizens do not understand the importance of a democratic regime, it is plausible they will inflict change that will cause it to erode. Jokowi is not advocating for a third term, but he must do more; he must condemn the idea and ensure that his country is properly informed by the 2024 election. Many issues are prevalent in Indonesia at this moment, and an educated population is essential in order to solve them.